NEW YORK // Navy chiefs are in talks about deploying a UAE warship as part of an international force to tackle the growing piracy menace off Somalia's lawless coast. The Government is discussing contributing a vessel to the 23-nation Combined Maritime Forces (CMS), the Bahrain-based international anti-piracy naval force.
"We are committed to co-operating with our allies and attempting to combat piracy," said Ahmed al Jarman, the UAE ambassador to the UN. "There are discussions about contributing forces, but this remains a military decision that has yet to be taken by the Ministry of Defence in Abu Dhabi." Capt Chris Chambers, director of CMS, said discussions were at an "early stage" but could lead to the Emirates joining the naval forces of the 29 other nations patrolling the Gulf of Aden.
Negotiations centre on whether the Emirates will contribute a warship to the joint operations or get involved at a lower level by helping to protect merchant vessels or gather intelligence. "We are very keen to have the UAE on board," said Capt Richard Farrington, chief of staff of the European Union Naval Force. "There are clearly a range of options for how the UAE can contribute, and it is a matter for the Government to make an appropriate decision."
The UAE Armed Forces announced deals worth more than Dh3 billion (US$817m) with local and international military suppliers during the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in February. Abu Dhabi Ship Building signed two contracts totalling Dh935.4m to provide the Navy with a dozen of its 26.5-metre speed assault boats and to upgrade a dozen already in service. Details of talks between the UAE and anti-pirate forces were disclosed to The National on the sidelines of a meeting at UN headquarters of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia.
The 28-nation group includes the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia alongside world powers such as the United States, Russia and China, and bodies such as the Arab League, the European Union, Nato and the United Nations. Members seek to combat the growing menace of piracy, which has seen raiders attempt 114 hijackings off the Somali coast already this year, compared with 111 during all of 2008. They discussed setting up an international tribunal to prosecute arrested pirates, staunching the cash flows earned from ransoms and whether to protect merchant vessels with armed guards.
Toting automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, pirates raid ships in the Gulf of Aden as they travel to and from the Suez Canal, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which carries a 10th of global trade aboard 20,000 vessels each year. Attacks have sent insurance costs rocketing and forced shipping lines to make expensive and time-consuming detours around the Cape of Good Hope for fear of losing their vessels.
This month's attempted raid on the UAE oil tanker, Dubai Princess, was only the latest in a string of attacks on Emirati vessels, with small trading dhows presenting an easy target for waterborne gunmen. Among the most high profile raids was the Dubai-owned Sirius Star, loaded with Saudi Arabian crude oil worth $100m, which was hijacked by pirates on Nov 15 and released on Jan 9 after a $3m ransom was paid.
Merchant seamen moored on Dubai Creek have become so fearful of piracy that some security firms have begun hiring heavily-armed guards to accompany crews on vulnerable vessels. Many analysts argue that defeating piracy in Somalia's lawless waters will involve comprehensively tackling the myriad problems that plague one of Africa's most troubled nations. In the absence of a functioning government since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has become a haven for pirates, whose lucrative ransoms - a total of $30m last year - represent the only booming industry in an impoverished land.
The country's UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, which is fighting a vicious insurgency and controls only a few neighbourhoods of the capital, Mogadishu, has proven powerless in tackling the problem. firstname.lastname@example.org